The Demands By The House Jan. 6 Panel For Records From Social Media Show Its Strong And Unbiased Efforts

On Friday, the House committee looking into the invasion of the Capitol on January 6th demanded extensive records from 15 social media companies, including a number of pro-Trump platforms. Because social media are relatively new in the world, these record demands break new ground.

Undoubtedly, pro-Trump forces will denounce such demands as biased, unjustified “fishing expeditions,” and mere efforts to make political points against Trump.

I have a different view. I advised Congressional investigations for 15 years, ultimately as General Counsel of the House. And, I served as special deputy chief counsel for the House Iran-contra investigation, the investigation of the Reagan Administrations’ arms-for-hostages and illegal resupply of the contras.

My role very much included drafting demands for records much like those now made by the current House investigation. It was an honor.

Why are these current demands determined and unbiased? The committee’s demands sought information about “the spread of misinformation, efforts to overturn the 2020 election or prevent certification of the results, [and] domestic violent extremism.”(quoting the committee’s press release.” That is not biased. That is what the committee is tasked by the House to do. Those are the subjects that the press expects to report on, at the committee’s hearings and its reports. This is what interests the public.

On the minority side on my Iran-contra committee were some remarkably able minority members, notably the senior member Rep. Dick Cheney, later Vice President. Cheney did not oppose our demands and subpoenas; he did not call them biased or fishing expeditions. Cheney took the effective position that he was in favor of getting the evidence and then arguing the minority position during hearings, at which he proved to be supremely effective, building Oliver North, the operative in the scandal, into a national hero. (We will see whether the effectiveness at hearings transfers from Cheney as he was back then, a Representative, to his daughter, a Representative who is on the committee, Liz Cheney.)

So, too, House Republicans should not oppose the document demand, but go along now, with some negotiation on particular points where the records demand is flawed, and then, like Cheney, use any helpful ones at hearings for their own side. Surely, they can ask particular witnesses at hearings, for example, whether they think the that the event on January 6th was spontaneous rather than orchestrated.

The demands cover 15 social media companies: 4chan, 8kun, Facebook, Gab, Google and its subsidiary Youtube, Parler, Reddit, Snapchat, Telegram, theDonald.win, Tik-tok, Twitch, Twitter and Zello. That includes numerous pro-Trump platforms.

Is that biased? Hardly. In an investigation of the January 6 riot, you have to go where there will be evidence about participants in the events. It will not help to make demands on the Rachel Maddow show. The participants did not appear on her show. You got to pro-Trump platforms because that is where the people in the January 6th event spoke or were spoken to, and look for evidence there.

On another aspect, the House committee is also looking into policy changes that the social media companies adopted “or failed to adopt” regard the spread of violent extremism, misinformation and foreign malign influence. That includes “decisions on banning material from platforms and contacts with law enforcement and other government entities.”

Is that a fishing expedition? It is a focused quest for the policy decision – or the policies not adopted – by the social media. That is not asking them how they make money or what businesses they bought or not. Quite possibly, there were internal proposals at the highly profitable social media companies to tighten up a little on conspiracy theories. There may be internal proposals about thinking about, but not acting on, bans on some material from platforms. There may be internal proposals about thinking about, but acting on, bringing dangerous proposals for group violence to the attention of law enforcement.

There may be internal exchanges in memos or e-mails about all this. These demands for records should be the gateway for what to do going forward, as to policies on

The public has learned a great deal in the past from the evidence gather by Congressional investigating committees and then presented at Congressional hearings. Hopefully that will be true as to the work of the January 6 committee.

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